They say not to bite the hand that feeds you…but what if that hand also hurts you?
Since the late 2010s, we at Rocket Clicks have proudly partnered with the Google Ads Partner Program. The badge has lived on our site, we’ve met with Google teams, and we’ve told clients and prospects alike about our integration.
Moving forward, that won’t be the case.
To be clear, Rocket Clicks is still actively managing advertising for our clients on Google. We meet all the qualifications for being a Premier Partner (and were recognized as such in 2023).
So why not take what is freely given?
Because in 2023, I do not believe that being a Google Partner is a benefit to helping our clients grow.
So we’re walking away, and I’d love to tell you why.
The Basics of the Google Partner Program
In Google’s own words:
“The Google Partners program is designed for advertising agencies and third parties that manage Google Ads accounts on behalf of other brands or businesses.”
Way back when, Google recognized that lots of businesses didn’t want to run Google advertising in-house, and were bringing in support in the form of consultants, freelancers, and agencies. Google recognized that agencies were literally advocating on their behalf, and they wisely moved to create a symbiotic relationship.
Today, the Partner Program is massive, with thousands of agencies enrolled. Currently, the qualification criteria for the program are:
Maintain an account optimization score of 70%+ across the range of managed accounts
Spend at least $10,000 on average over a rolling 90-day period
Have at least 50% of your Strategists certified by Google in a variety of topics
If you meet these standards, you qualify for Partner status. If you are also in the top 3% of Partners in the following categories, you can reach Premier Partner status:
Grow year-over-year spend of managed clients
Retain clients year-over-year
Spend in non-Search categories on Google (Display, Video, Apps, Shopping)
High total spend managed
(As a reminder, Rocket Clicks was recognized as a Premier Partner in multiple years, including 2023.)
The Promise of Being a Google Partner
So what exactly does being a Partner mean for agencies? Google breaks the promise down into three buckets, as pictured below.
In practice, the specific benefits offered include:
- Consumer insights data
- Product betas
- Extended support for account/technical issues
- Promotional offers for client accounts
- Client introductions
- Awards & rewards for the agency
All told, this sounds like a pretty great deal. Be a great agency, serve clients well and help them grow, and Google will come alongside you to offer support in key areas!
Sadly, this is where our tale takes a turn for the worse.
Our Experience as a Premier Partner
In my opinion, the Partner Program’s purpose has changed as Google has gained more and more market share. Agencies are no longer a benefit, in Google’s eyes, but a hindrance to increased revenues and profits from advertisers.
Go back and read those requirements to become a Premier Partner. See how many are just related to spend?
Remember, Google makes money when advertisers spend, regardless of results. So when they couldn’t put any more ads in search results without destroying the user experience, suddenly the Partner program incentivized spend in “non-Search” placements. Convenient!
Google clearly sees the Partner Program not as a way to support agencies, but to strongarm them into convincing clients to spend more. We don’t believe this is in the client’s best interest, and it’s why we’re pushing back.
Going back a decade, our team has worked with some fantastic Google reps. But gradually there has been less support, and more raw sales.
Remember those promises? Well, this has been the reality we’ve actually encountered:
- Our clients have gotten access to zero product betas
- When our clients have support issues, our reps direct us to the standard support channels (call, chat) and are unable to escalate
- We were explicitly told that Google would not introduce any agency to an interested potential client, to avoid a conflict of interest
Check out these screenshots from different reps for different client accounts of ours. Does this seem like they are considering the unique goals of each business and how they might need to use Google Ads differently?
Or consider the time that our Google reps informed us that we needed to have at least 15 Auto-Applied Recommendations (AAR) to stay in the Partner Program. They even suggested we find recommendations that we’d already applied and turn them to Auto-Apply so that our agency could “get credit” for having AAR enabled.
The result? For one example, sitelinks that make no sense for our client, thanks to AAR.
These aren’t behaviors of business consultants or even customer support reps – these are used car sales tactics. Shady, deceptive, manipulative, and not in any way focused on what was beneficial for their advertisers (our clients)
The Straw That Broke Our Backs
Finally, and to our minds worst of all, in April 2023 Google changed the format of the Partner Program structure. Instead of Google reps being attached to agency teams, they are now attached to accounts.
Let me restate that: reps now prioritize the account, not the agency partner.
Previously, all Google contact filtered through the Partner agency. That meant we, as an unbiased third-party, could fact-check any recommendations for clients who might be missing context.
But now, Google reps have been explicitly instructed to contact the client directly if the Partner (agency) will not pass on the recommendations or get the client onboard.
If that seems fine, remember: Google’s only goal is for advertisers to spend more money. An agency’s goal is to help the advertiser hit their goals. Agencies are aligned with client goals, Google is not!
But when a small business owner gets a call from someone who works at Google, telling them to push more spend into YouTube, they might not know to question that. After all, doesn’t Google know best what works on their platform?
In our experience, no.
What Comes Next
We still believe that Google Ads is a powerful tool for business growth. We will continue to manage and recommend the platform for our clients.
But as of this post, Google’s Partner Program is no longer in the best interests of it’s membership.
For us to continue engaging in the Program would be tantamount to selling out our clients. And we refuse to do that.
Instead, we will hold our position as watchdog for our clients. We will protect them from bad advice and misinformation. We will advise each of them uniquely, specific to their goals.
If you’re an agency, we’re calling on you to join us. Put your clients’ needs first. Send a message to Google that they, and we, deserve better.
If you’re a business, don’t trust advice just because it comes from a Google email address. Find a partner who truly puts your business first. And vet carefully any agency who claims the Google Partner status – it may not mean what you think.